(Sankei: November 3, 2015 – p. 2)
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye finally met for summit talks after a long hiatus. They discussed a broad range of issues in a frank and candid fashion, but the details of the meeting have not been disclosed.
The leaders both took office more than two and half years ago, but they had not met for formal, one-on-one talks. The recent dialogue put an end to this abnormal situation. They apparently tried to avoid playing up their differences in an effort to take a significant step forward in improving bilateral ties.
The relationship between Japan and South Korea is still so fragile that their leaders have to suppress what they really want to say.
Making progress on various different issues at once is unfeasible. In particular, hasty efforts to reach a settlement over history issues should be avoided.
After the summit, Abe explained that he stated Japan’s positions “on various concerns” and urged South Korea to address them. The details on what kinds of proposals were presented to deal with specific concerns have yet to be revealed.
Among the issues that the leaders reached a consensus on is to accelerate efforts to seek an early settlement of the comfort women issue.
Abe said after the meeting, “We should leave no impediment for future generations” when they deal with this issue. Park has demanded that the issue be resolved in a way that is “acceptable to the Korean people.”
Needless to say, the comfort women issue was resolved through the agreement on the right to claim that Japan and South Korea signed in 1965. Japan paid compensation for former comfort women through the Asian Women’s Fund. But South Korea has dredged up the issue again and is using it as a diplomatic tool to restrain Japan.
The leaders of the two countries are eagerly seeking to make progress in order to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic ties. It goes without saying that Japan cannot change its principles, but an ambiguous settlement will not help matters because it could create problems in the future.
Next year, Japan will host a three-party summit with China and South Korea. It should continue convincing Park that obsessing over history issues will not lead to an improvement in bilateral ties.
Japan and South Korea should prioritize discussing Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile development programs and deteriorating security climate in the region on account of the rise of China’s military presence.
These issues are linked to the national interests of the two countries. It is becoming increasingly necessary for Japan, South Korea and China to strengthen their cooperation together with the U.S. Tokyo and Seoul should discuss these issues, including China’s maritime advance in the South China Sea, as soon as possible. (Slightly abridged)